Dexter Weaver, owner of the world-famous Athens soul food restaurant Weaver D’s, plans to shut the doors for good after Thanksgiving.
Weaver opened the restaurant in 1986, but it didn’t become famous until 1992, when regular patrons R.E.M. used his slogan, “Automatic for the People,” as the title of their 1992 album that sold 18 million copies, turning him into a celebrity and Weaver D’s into a must-see for music fans visiting Athens.
But business has slowed, and last year Weaver said he’d be forced to shut down if it didn’t pick up. It did, but only temporarily, and Weaver announced Monday, Nov. 4 that he is closing “two-three weeks from today” and putting the restaurant and everything in it up for sale.
Weaver recently spoke to Flagpole about his decision to retire.
Flagpole: Weaver D’s was on the brink of closing last October and was up for sale in February. Were you able to overcome those financial troubles?
Dexter Weaver: We were almost getting ready to close and we got on the news. People support us and would come by and do what they could do to help us stay in business. One girl got on Facebook and got like 200 people to come on one Friday. They didn’t all come at one time, but throughout the day. I thought that was a great help. Once we got in the news, the help got bigger and bigger. Then in February again we went through the whole nine yards, about to close and someone came that wanted to buy it, but I wasn’t ready to retire it yet. So we’re still hanging on.
FP: Would you sell Weaver D’s now if another offer came along?
DW: I would. Yes, I’m looking for some offers. I wasn’t ready to retire when I got the offer last October, but now I am. If someone buys it, they can do whatever they want with it. I’m not where I was healthwise a year ago. My legs are just not holding up now, and we need a whole lot more sales in order to stay here, and if we can’t, then we’ll have to close. We’re barely just making it, and we need to do more than barely. I haven’t gotten a salary in more than a year… We’ll be open through Thanksgiving, but when the students go home for Thanksgiving, I’m going home, too, and I’m not coming back.
FP: What are the biggest challenges you face today?
DW: I’m still not able to pay all of my bills. My house is up for sale, so I wouldn’t say it’s doing fine and dandy. So, we’re just existing. The price of food has gone up so high and utilities, so we’ve had to raise our prices. Gathering more money would always solve the problem. Our revenue is not as much as we need. We’re just here by the grace of God. We would need a miracle to stay open.
FP: How much money are you making a day now? How much money do you need every day to successfully operate the restaurant?
DW: We made $170 on Monday and $270 on Tuesday, so it doesn’t get worse than Monday or Tuesday. We need to make like $1,000 a day in order to pay all our bills when it comes to food, labor and utilities.
FP: Has Weaver D’s received a lot of support from students?
DW: A lot of the students don’t have a lot of money, and a lot of their credit cards get declined. We hope the students don’t come back from summer broke. We’re weighing on everyone in the community now, but some people don’t know about us. Someone once said that we [were off the beaten path], but they say nowhere in Athens is off the beaten path, so I don’t know.
FP: What career advice would you give to others who want to own and run a restaurant?
DW: They’ve got to watch everything. Watch their portions, watch the food, watch the inventory that you bring in, watch your labor, watch your spending and watch your employees. Don’t have a lot of money sitting on the shelves and in the freezer. We’re at the point now where our refrigerators are not filled and our freezers are not filled. We just have the week’s supply and buy more food when we run out.
I ran Wendy’s, I ran Kentucky Fried Chicken and I ran Krystal. I was seven years in fast food management and 27 years here, so that’s 34 years under my belt. You have to work long hours. The work never stops. Non-stop. I’m here from nine to six, six days a week, every Monday through Saturday.
FP: Did you always have the dream of opening your own restaurant?
DW: I never had the dream of opening my own restaurant, but I think, since I worked in fast food, I was geared towards opening my own restaurant. All that I learned in fast food management, like controlling your food costs, labor costs and paper costs, all that really played a big part in opening my own. Learning to fix all the equipment in the fast food restaurants helped me in opening my own. I was a tenant for 23 years. Then, in 2009, I purchased this building.
FP: What are some of your greatest accomplishments since opening Weaver D’s?
DW: We received the James Beard Award. I went to New York City in 2007 to receive the award. The James Beard Award is like the Grammys of food service. Martha Stewart and all the cooks you see on TV were there that night. They named Weaver D’s an American Classic that night.
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